Prior to the commencement of the Second World War, Britain took in over 10,000 Jewish refugee children from Europe. This was known as Kindertransport, with the majority of the children never seeing their families again.
Diane Samuels play, Kindertransport, follows the story of Eva who is sent from Hamburg to England in 1938 when she is nine years old. Running concurrent to this is the story of adult Eva, forty years on, struggling to reconcile the truth of her past to her daughter and to herself.
Sarah Greenwood delivers a solid performance as the young Eva, as she struggles to leave her Mother and start a new life in a foreign country. Her heartbreak is palpable as the train pulls away and her defiance and courage in the face of a Nazi soldier is admirable.
When her daughter uncovers documents and photographs tying her to her past, she feels betrayed – angry at a Mother she feels she doesn’t know. Adult Eva, brilliantly portrayed by Camilla Ah Kin, has changed her name, her birthday and is keeping secrets, even from her British Mother, played by Annie Byron. As Eva steps further and further back into her past, we realise that while her Father died in Auschwitz, her Mother survived, made it through the war and found her in England.
Her Mother, played by Emma Palmer, wanted Eva to live with her in New York where some of their relatives had emigrated. At seventeen Eva is torn between the life she was living and the life she had left behind, ultimately deciding to stay in England and never seeing her Mother again. It is evident that this decision has haunted her and the guilt she carries has impacted on her relationship with her own daughter, played by Harriet Gordon-Anderson. As she accepts her past, who she is and the choices she made, her relationship with her own daughter is reconciled and finally, after so many years of both external and internal conflict, Eva is at peace.
Acknowledgement needs to be given to the exceptional set design and the clever use of furniture and lighting to portray train travel. The abundance of boxes reflects the sense of packing and unpacking which underlies Kindertransport – of a life lived out of a suitcase and secrets hidden away in cupboards. One of the most impressive aspects of Samuels play is the strong female voices – of Eva, her Mother, her foster Mother and her own daughter – Kindertransport tells their stories with honesty and a frankness which leaves the audience moved and grateful.
For more information and to purchase tickets, head to the Darlinghurst Theatre website. The production runs until 20th August.
Photo courtesy of Darlinghurst Theatre. The author attended the performance on 2nd August.